Living the best life I can, for as long as I can

Looking back on the 20 years since her first breast cancer diagnosis, Sylvia believes she is now receiving the best medicine of all. She calls it ‘granddaughter therapy’.

It’s an unbridled joy the Wagga resident hoped, but never expected to experience, and she savours every cuddle, smile and photo of her grandchildren.

Initially treated for cancer in both breasts in 1998 at the age of 41, Sylvia became committed to improving her health. Walking was a way of clearing her mind – she never imagined it would evolve into running marathons.

The mother of two was well and fitter than ever when she travelled to Germany with her choir group in October 2007.

A year later, 10 years after her initial breast cancer diagnosis, a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer left Sylvia feeling broken. It was then she renewed her faith and sought help for her mental wellbeing.

Sylvia says her metastatic diagnosis was a prompt to live whatever time she had left as well as she could.

She began to set herself goals – things she wanted to do and milestones she couldn’t miss.

In the last 10 years, Sylvia has studied, worked part-time, gone on cruises, ridden a bike through France, completed fun runs, watched her daughter graduate from medicine, seen her son open his own business, and become grandmother to Maddison and Aimee.

‘I take inspiration from others, not just those with cancer, but anyone who has faced challenges,’ she says.

Like many others, Sylvia describes her life with cancer as a roller- coaster. There have been a few close calls with bouts of pneumonia.

Six months ago, the harsh effects of chemotherapy took their toll. She thought, ‘I’m over this!’, but rallied again, deciding that it simply wasn’t her time yet.

As the disease progresses, she is philosophical.

‘I’m still receiving treatment, but I’m terminal – time is running out. I have my moments, but I feel peaceful.’

Having turned 62 in March, her goals are now smaller and simplified, but every bit as meaningful.

‘I love my daily cups of tea with girlfriends, singing in church and planning trips interstate to see my two beautiful granddaughters.’

Even with her physical decline and the limitations of an ileostomy, Sylvia takes pride in living independently, insisting she still enjoys a good quality of life.

‘I was one of those people who thought palliative care only became involved in your last few weeks. I now know it’s much more. They are worth their weight in gold with their advice, help and nurturing.’

Remaining stoic but prepared, she’s had the tough conversations about death with loved ones.

‘Even though I get teary talking about it, I get a sense of relief. I want my funeral to be a concert.’

Notes have been written about her favourite plants and furniture, and arrangements are being made for her beloved cats.

Planning for the inevitable doesn’t mean Sylvia is giving up hope for a little more time. When she read the news that Prince Harry was engaged, she added seeing him marry to her list of goals.

Sylvia is grateful for every day, even the bad ones.

‘Every bit of extra time is worth it – I’m still living.’

Sylvia with her son and daughter

Sylvia with her son and daughter

Issue 82
Autumn 2018